Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholicism on Campus: Stability and Change in Catholic Student Faith by College Type

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholicism on Campus: Stability and Change in Catholic Student Faith by College Type

Article excerpt

Are Catholic colleges and universities failing in their mission of educating their Catholic students in the faith? Many believe these institutions are in one key way: A 2003 study commissioned by the Cardinal Newman Society concluded that "a survey of students at 38 Catholic colleges.. .reveals that graduating seniors are predominantly pro-abortion, approve of homosexual 'marriage,' and only occasionally pray or attend religious services" (Reilly, 2003, p. 38).

As disturbing as this profile may be to many Catholic Church leaders, it is a profile of attitudes and behavior that is not all that different from adult self-identified Catholics in the United States in general (Gray & Bendyna, 2008; Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008a, 2008b). Thus, one could conclude that Catholic higher education is just one of many Catholic educational institutions, including Catholic parishes and schools, that reach a broader Catholic population in the United States and are potentially having difficulties instilling the Catholic faith.

To understand if Catholic higher education is truly failing one must isolate changes that are occurring to students' attitudes and behaviors on campus. Here we agree with the author summarizing the Cardinal Newman Society study who notes, "Regardless of where students begin their college journey, Catholic colleges should be helping students move closer [emphasis added] to Christ, and certainly doing a better job of moving students toward the Catholic faith than secular colleges do" (Reilly, 2003, p. 43). This represents a measurable outcome.

We, like the Cardinal Newman Society, rely on data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles. The Cardinal Newman Society study was based on a survey of college freshmen in 1997 and a follow-up survey with students in their senior year in 2001. We rely on a more recent HERI longitudinal survey, which included a new addendum: the College Student Beliefs and Values (CSBV) survey. Available data from this survey includes 14,527 students at 136 U.S. colleges and universities. (1) This survey was administered to freshman respondents in 2004 and again to these students as juniors in spring 2007.

Our analyses of these data are inspired by the quote above from the Cardinal Newman study author regarding the ability of Catholic colleges and universities to help Catholic students "move closer" to the Church and their faith. We measure whether students, regardless of their incoming attitudes and behavior, move closer, stay the same, or move further away from the Church while in college.

Background and Literature

The topic of Catholicism on U.S. college campuses has importance due to its sheer size. In terms of the population, Catholics make up the single largest faith group in the United States, with approximately 23% of adults self-identifying as such; more United States colleges and universities are affiliated with the Catholic Church than any other faith (245 institutions of higher learning). (2)

Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution written by Pope John Paul II in 1990, requires colleges and universities that seek to identify themselves as a Catholic institution to seek the affirmation of Church authorities. This document suggests that "Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity. As such, it participates most directly in the life of the local Church in which it is situated" (John Paul II, 1990, para. 27). Further, Ex corde Ecclesiae identifies essential aspects for Catholic identity:

1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; 2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research; 3. …

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